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What The Movies Made Me Do : by Susan Braudy (Knopf: $15.95; 233 pp.)

December 29, 1985|Meredith Babeaux Brucker | Brucker is the author of nine paperback original novels.

This absurd story is probably an accurate-enough account of the absurd world of movie-making. Where a near-mad director squanders studio money while proclaiming, "I am an artist working in a corrupt and brutal system." And where the studio executive says of that director, "Actually, she loves everything about movies I do--power fights, career gambles, killer hustlers, creative stuff, happy endings, money and glamour."

Most Hollywood novels describe a movie in production to serve as a contrapuntal metaphor to the main action. Here, Carol the producer is making a religious film, "where finally Jesus will be somebody Jews can identify with," which is shown in a way that is disturbing rather than revealing. The project seems hopeless, with self-destructive cynics responsible for it. Responsible? One yearns for any up-tight, hard-working professional. Have they all left town, taking the "Hollywood" sign with them?

All the characters in the book have that fatal film maker's disease: the belief that they are better than their medium. "He wasn't always a Hollywood wheeler-dealer. He's a very serious person and he's surrounded by vipers," Carol says of a former lover. And she envies a woman doctor who doesn't have to "hustle and connive to get her way." They agonize over what they are doing in a business where everyone else is immoral and crazy, when they are so smart and good.

This book presents the best possible argument against women in show business, especially when Carol proclaims, "I know one of my assets with powerful men is the fact they find me attractive. I play on it, but hypocritically. I dress in loose dark clothing, and I talk like a library training student." When she and her director, her best friend since college, suffer "creative differences," they spew shrewish personal insults at each other for seven nasty pages.

The dialogue is disturbing, so naturalistic as to be confusing. True, actual conversation is full of non sequiturs. "How long you been away from New York?" "I grew up here." But here they abound, and slow the reader, as do the frequent short, choppy sentences.

Hollywood has a reputation for taking itself too seriously, while delighting in making fun of others. Susan Braudy, herself a former film executive, tries to poke fun at the vulnerable old fool himself, who mouths lofty ideals while dressed in baggy pants and a rubber nose. But we see missed opportunities, power abused, inmates in charge of the asylum, and the result is more sad than funny.

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